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Adam Frederick Cullen (9 October 1965 – 28 July 2012)[2] was an Australian artist, most known for winning the Archibald Prize in 2000 with a portrait of actor David Wenham. He was also known for his controversial subjects or work. His style has at times been called by some critics[1] as simplistic, crude, adolescent or puerile, though he has been voted[by whom?] one of Australia's most collectible contemporary artists.[citation needed].

Adam Cullen
Adam Frederick Cullen

(1965-10-09)9 October 1965
Died28 July 2012(2012-07-28) (aged 46)
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales, Australia
Alma mater
AwardsArchibald Prize
2000 Portrait of David Wenham
Patron(s)Edmund Capon[1]

He is the subject of the acclaimed and award-winning feature film Acute Misfortune (2019).

Cullen's studio was located at Wentworth Falls, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. He had stated that he had painted to the music of punk bands such as the Meat Puppets, Black Flag and the Butthole Surfers. Cullen painted such things as dead cats, 'bloodied' kangaroos, headless women and punk men, many of which represent what he termed "Loserville".[citation needed]

The artist used a highly personal visual language to address a broad range of topics including crime, masculinity and cowboy culture. He merged high and low cultural influences in works which are defined by their iridescent colours and bold gestural marks. His works combine irreverent humour with an astute sensitivity to society.[citation needed]



Adam Cullen was born in Sydney in 1965. He was a cousin of the actor and artist Max Cullen. He graduated from the City Art Institute (now UNSW Art & Design) with a Diploma of Professional Art in 1987 and received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales in 1999. He exhibited broadly in individual and group exhibitions both in Australia and overseas. In 2002 he represented Australia at the 25th São Paulo Art Biennial.He gained early fame at art school by dragging around a rotting pig's head chained to his ankle.[citation needed] Cullen was well established as a Sydney 'grunge' artist when he won the prestigious Archibald Prize for his portrait of actor David Wenham in 2000.[citation needed]

As well his painting his grunge style entered the world of printmaking at Whaling Road Studios producing his first suite of etchings printed by Diana Davidson and Mark Rowden.

Association with criminal figuresEdit

Cullen often employed the image of infamous and iconic Australian bushranger Ned Kelly in his artwork. He also portrayed the killers of 1986 murder victim Anita Cobby, and illustrated the underworld figure and convicted criminal Mark 'Chopper' Read's fairy tale book called Hooky the Cripple.

Archibald PrizeEdit

He entered the Archibald Prize at least 9 times, was hung at least 8 times, and won once in 2000. He was a finalist in 1997, 1999, 2001-2004, 2006 (with his painting Edmund, depicting gallery director and art historian Edmund Capon), in 2011 and 2012.

After winning the 2000 Prize, Cullen lodged a complaint with the ABC who had used his painting, Portrait of David Wenham, in a television commercial. Cullen argued that artists have the right to control how their images are used and asked that a fee of $67,500 be paid to him for them using it in this way, though it was negotiated that he would be paid $80 for it instead.[citation needed]

He was interviewed in the 2005 Peter Berner documentary about the Archibald Prize called Loaded Brush.[citation needed]

Other prizes and honoursEdit

Cullen was exhibited in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize show of 2000-2001 with a portrait of comedian Mikey Robins. He was the winner of the Mosman Art Prize in 2005, having been a finalist in 2000.[citation needed]

In November 2009, the Cullen Hotel, named after the artist, opened in Melbourne.[citation needed]

Acute Misfortune, directed by Thomas Wright, a biopic on Cullen focussing on his volatile relationship with his biographer Erik Jensen was released in 2018.[3]

Later lifeEdit

In 2011 he was given a suspended jail sentence for drink driving and weapons offences. A psychiatric report recommended treatment for bipolar disorder as well as a long-term alcohol rehabilitation program.


  1. ^ a b Edmond, Martin (30 September 2014). "Declivities and eminences". Sydney Review of Books. Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  2. ^ Frew, Wendy (29 July 2012). "Archibald winner Adam Cullen dies aged 47". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Acute Misfortune - Adelaide Film Festival". Retrieved 2018-10-18.

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Euan MacLeod
Archibald Prize
for Portrait of David Wenham
Succeeded by
Nicholas Harding